Changing to F-1/F-3 from Another Visa Status

The U.S. government has visa categories for visits, study, employment and immigration to the United States. Each visa category has its own rules and regulations. Some visas permit the visa holder to study and others do not. Sometimes only part-time study is permitted.

When you are granted a visa to the U.S. and enter the U.S. with that visa, you are given an I-94 (white card), stapled in your passport, which tells you the visa status (visa category & rules) that applies to you.

If you arrived in the U.S. with a visa other than an F-1, you would like to study AND your current visa status prohibits studying, you may need to apply to change status to the F-1 category OR apply for a student visa (F-1 / F-3). This process is called “changing immigration status,” or “changing status.”

For example, F-2 visa holders are dependents (spouses or children) of F-1 visa holders. An F-2 spouse is not allowed to study (or to work). After being in the U.S. for awhile, F-2 spouses sometimes decide that they would like to study to earn a degree.

Here are some common scenarios:

  1. F-2 visa holder (dependent of F-1 student visa holder) wants to study at the college level
  2. TD visa holder (dependent of TN work visa holder) is a student & will turn 21
  3. H-4 visa holder (child dependent of H-1b work visa holder) is a student & will turn 21
  4. H-1b visa holder (work visa) will stop working & start studying on a full-time basis
  5. L-1 visa holder (work visa) wants to become a student
  6. B-2 visa holder (tourist visa) wants to become a student — ***CAREFUL! See note below

If you want to change status to the F-1 category, there are two options:

  1. Apply for the change of status from within the U.S. and without exiting the U.S., or
  2. Make an appointment at a U.S. Consulate General, and request the new visa in person, which requires leaving the U.S.

The first option is the most commonly chosen for students from countries other than Mexico or Canada, since if the visa is denied, the student is less likely to be prevented from reentering the U.S. It involves filing a form called the Form I-539 and supplementary documentation by mail to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (US CIS). However, this takes three months or longer, and has a cost of $290. The application and information are available at the USCIS website. This process does NOT result in the issuance of an F-1 student visa, just a new I-94 with an F-1 designation. Therefore, if a student who obtained F-1 status by this method leaves the U.S., the student will have to obtain the actual F-1 visa sticker in their passport to reenter the U.S. as a student.

The second option is best for Mexican nationals, since UTEP is on the U.S. – Mexico border. The students can more quickly and less expensively request the new visa by completing a DS-160 form following the instructions located on the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez website. Mexican students planning to live in Mexico & commute to the U.S. during their studies will most likely be given an F-3 visa at the U.S. consulate. Mexican students who have demonstrated sufficient funding to live in the U.S. during their studies will most likely be granted the F-1 visa.

Whichever option you are considering, please make an appointment with an international student advisor at the OIP for guidance.

***NOTE TO B-2 TOURIST VISA HOLDERS: A change of status within the U.S. usually won’t be approved by USCIS with this category, UNLESS the notation of “prospective student” appears on the person’s tourist visa or the I-94.

B-2 visa holders are forbidden from studying until they have obtained permission to study, either by an approved I-539 petition or by exiting the U.S. & obtaining an F-1 or F-3 visa at a US consulate / embassy.

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